Distributions

General concepts

For those who come from using Windows or Mac it may be strange that there are several "versions" or "distributions" of Linux. In Windows, for example, we only have a more basic version (Home Edition), a professional (Professional Edition) and one for servers (Server Edition). On Linux, there is a HUGE amount of distributions.

To begin to understand what a distribution is, you first need some clarification. Linux is, first of all, the kernel or kernel operating system. The kernel is the heart of any operating system and works as a "mediator" between requests from programs and hardware. This alone, without anything else, is absolutely inoperable. What we use every day is actually a Linux distribution. That is, the kernel + a series of programs (mail clients, office automation, etc.) that make requests to the hardware through the kernel.

That said, we can think of Linux distributions as a LEGO castle, that is, a set of small pieces of software: one is in charge of booting the system, another provides us with a visual environment, another is in charge of 'visual effects' from the desktop, etc. Then there are people who put together their own distributions, publish them, and people can download and test them. The difference between these versions consists, precisely, in the kernel or kernel that you use, the combination of the programs that are in charge of routine tasks (system startup, desktop, window management, etc.), the configuration of each of these programs, and the set of "desktop programs" (office automation, internet, chat, image editors, etc.) chosen.

What distribution do I choose?

Before you begin, the first thing to decide is which Linux distribution - or "distro" - to use. Although there are many factors that come into play when choosing a distro and it could be said that there is one for every need (education, audio and video editing, security, etc.), the most important thing when you start is to choose a distro that is "for beginners", with a broad and supportive community that can help you solve your doubts and problems and that has good documentation.

What are the best distros for beginners? There is some consensus regarding the distros considered for newbies, among them are: Ubuntu (and its remixes Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, etc.), Linux Mint, PCLinuxOS, etc. Does this mean that they are the best distros? No. That will depend fundamentally on both your needs (how you are going to use the system, what machine do you have, etc.) and your capabilities (if you are an expert or a "beginner" in Linux, etc.).

In addition to your needs and your capabilities there are two other elements that will surely influence your choice: the desktop environment and the processor.

ProcessorIn the process of searching for the "perfect distro" you will discover that most distributions come in 2 versions: 32 and 64 bits (also known as x86 and x64). The difference has to do with the type of processor they support. The correct option will depend on the type and model of processor you are using.

In general, the safe option is usually to download the 32-bit version, although newer machines (with more modern processors) possibly support 64 bit. If you try a 32-bit distribution on a machine that supports 64-bit, nothing bad happens, it will not explode, but you may not "get the most out of it" (especially if you have more than 2GB of RAM).

Desktop environment: The most popular distros come, to put it neatly, in different "flavors." Each of these versions implements what we call a "desktop environment." This is nothing more than the implementation of a graphical user interface that offers access and configuration facilities, application launchers, desktop effects, window managers, etc. The most popular environments are GNOME, KDE, XFCE, and LXDE.

Thus, for example, the best known "flavors" of Ubuntu are: traditional Ubuntu (Unity), Kubuntu (Ubuntu + KDE), Xubuntu (Ubuntu + XFCE), Lubuntu (Ubuntu + LXDE), etc. The same is true of other popular distributions.

I already chose, now I want to try it

Well, once you have made the decision, it only remains to download the distro you want to use. This is also a very strong change from Windows. No, you are not breaking any law nor are you going to have to navigate potentially dangerous pages, just go to the official page of the distro you like, download the ISO image, you copy it to a CD / DVD or a pendrive and everything is ready to start testing Linux. This is one of the many advantages of FOSS.

For your peace of mind, Linux has an important advantage over Windows: you can try almost all distros without having to erase your current system. This can be achieved in a number of ways and at different levels.

1. Live CD / DVD / USB- The most popular and easiest way to test a distro is by downloading the ISO image from its official website, copying it to a CD / DVD / USB stick, and then booting from there. This will allow you to run Linux directly from the CD / DVD / USB without erasing an iota of the system you have installed. No need to install drivers or delete anything. It is just that easy.

All you have to do is: download the ISO image of the distro you like the most, burn it to a CD / DVD / USB using special software, configure BIOS to boot from the chosen device (CD / DVD or USB) and, finally, select the option "Test distro X" or similar that will appear on startup.

More advanced users can even create a Live USBs multiboot, which allows you to boot several distros from the same USB stick.

2. Virtual machine: A virtual machine is an application that allows us to run one operating system inside another as if it were a different program. This is possible through the creation of a virtual version of a hardware resource; in this case, several resources: the complete computer.

This technique is commonly used to test other operating systems. For example if you are on Windows and want to try a Linux distro or vice versa. It is also very useful when we need to run a specific application that only exists for another system that we do not use regularly. For example, if you use Linux and you need to use a program that only exists for Windows.

There are several programs for this purpose, among which are virtual Box , VMWare y QEMU.

3. Dual-bootWhen you decide to actually install Linux, don't forget that it is possible to install it together with your current system, so that when you start the machine it asks you which system you want to start with. This process is called dual-boot.

For more information regarding Linux distributions, I recommend reading these articles:

Previous clarifications before seeing some distros.

{Find posts related to the Search Engine} = Search posts related to this distro using the blog search engine.
{Official website of the distro} = Go to the official page of the distro.

Based on Debian

  • Debian. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: is characterized by its security and stability. It can be said that it is one of the most important distros, although today it is not as popular as some of its derivatives (Ubuntu, for example). If you want to use the most up-to-date versions of all your programs, this is not your distro. On the other hand, if you value stability, there is no doubt: Debian is for you.
  • Mepis. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: aimed at improving and simplifying Debian design. You could say that the idea is very similar to Ubuntu, but without "straying" so much from the stability and security that Debian offers.
  • Knoppix. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: knoppix became very popular as it was one of the first distros to allow direct streaming from live cd. This means being able to run the operating system without having to install it. Today, this functionality is available in almost all major Linux distros. Knoppix remains an interesting alternative as a rescue CD in the event of any eventuality.
  • and several more ...

Based on Ubuntu

  • Ubuntu. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: It is the most popular distro at the moment. It gained fame because, a while ago they sent you a free CD to your house with the system for you to try. It also became very popular because its philosophy was based on making a "Linux for human beings", trying to bring Linux closer to the common desktop user and not to the "geeks" programmers. It is a good distro for those just starting out.
  • Linux Mint. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: due to problems related to patents and the philosophy of free software itself, Ubuntu does not come by default with some codecs and programs installed. They can be easily incorporated, but must be installed and configured. For that reason, Linux Mint was born, which already comes with all that "from the factory". It is the most recommended distro for those just starting out on Linux.
  • Kubuntu. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: It is the Ubuntu variant but with the KDE desktop. This desktop looks more like Win 7, so if you like it, you will like Kubuntu.
  • Xubuntu. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: It is the Ubuntu variant but with the XFCE desktop. This desktop has a reputation for consuming much less resources than GNOME (the default in Ubuntu) and KDE (the default in Kubuntu). Although this was true at first, it is no longer so.
  • Edubuntu. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: is the variant of Ubuntu oriented to the educational field.
  • Backtrack. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: distro oriented to security, networks and systems rescue.
  • gNewSense. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: it is one of the "completely free" distros, according to the FSF.
  • Ubuntu Studio. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: distro oriented to professional multimedia editing of audio, video and graphics. If you are a musician, this is a good distro. The best, however, is Musix.
  • and several more ...

Based on Red Hat

  • Red Hat. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: This is the commercial version based on Fedora. While new versions of Fedora come out every 6 months or so, RHEL ones usually come out every 18 to 24 months. RHEL has a series of value-added services on which it bases its business (support, training, consulting, certification, etc.).
  • Fedora. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: In its beginnings based on Red Hat, its current state has changed and in fact today Red Hat is fed back or based as much or more than Rad Hat's Fedora. It is one of the most popular distros, although lately it is losing many followers at the hands of Ubuntu and its derivatives. However, it is also known that Fedora developers have made more contributions to free software development in general than Ubuntu developers (who have focused more on visual, design and aesthetic issues).
  • CentOS. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: This is a binary-level clone of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux RHEL Linux distribution, compiled by volunteers from the source code released by Red Hat.
  • Scientific Linux. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: distro geared towards scientific research. It is maintained by the CERN and Fermilab Physics laboratories.
  • and several more ...

Based on Slackware

  • Slackware. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: It is the oldest Linux distribution that is valid. It was designed with two goals in mind: ease of use and stability. It is the favorite of many "geeks", although today it is not very popular.
  • Zenwalk Linux. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: it is a very light distro, recommended for older compus and focused on Internet tools, multimedia, and programming.
  • Linux Vector. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: This is a distro that is gaining popularity. It is based on slackware, which makes it safe and stable, and incorporates several very interesting proprietary tools.
  • and several more ...

Mandriva-based

  • Mandriva. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro} - Initially based on Red Hat. Its goal is very similar to Ubuntu: attract new users to the Linux world by providing an easy-to-use and intuitive system. Unfortunately, certain financial problems of the company behind this distro caused it to lose much popularity.
  • Mageia. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: In 2010, a group of former Mandriva employees, with the support of community members, announced that they had created a fork of Mandriva Linux. A new community-led distribution called Mageia was created.
  • PCLinuxOS. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: based on Mandriva, but nowadays very far from it. It is getting quite popular. It incorporates several own tools (installer, etc.).
  • Tinyme. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: This is a mini-distribution of Linux based on PCLinuxOS, which is oriented towards older hardware.
  • and several more ...

Independents

  • OpenSUSE. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: This is the free version of SUSE Linux Enterprise, offered by Novell. It is one of the most popular distros, although it is losing ground.
  • Puppy Linux. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: It is only 50 MB in size, yet provides a fully functional system. Absolutely recommended for old compus.
  • Arch Linux. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: His philosophy is to edit and configure everything by hand. The idea is to build your system "from scratch", which means that the installation is more complicated. However, once armed it is a fast, stable and safe system. In addition, it is a "rolling release" distro which means that the updates are permanent and it is not necessary to go from one major version to the other as in Ubuntu and other distros. Recommended for geeks and people wanting to learn how Linux works.
  • Gentoo. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: is aimed at users with some experience in these operating systems.
  • Sabayon (based on Gentoo) {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: Sabayon Linux differs from Gentoo Linux in that you can have a complete installation of the operating system without having to compile all the packages to have it. The initial installation is done using precompiled binary packages.
  • Tiny Core Linux. {Find posts related to the Search Engine {Official website of the distro}: excellent distro for older compus.
  • watts. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: "green" distro aimed at conserving energy.
  • Slitaz. {Find posts related to the Search Engine} {Official website of the distro}: "light" distro. Very interesting for old compus.
  • and several more ...

Other interesting posts

Step-by-step installation guides

What to do after installing…?

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